An excerpt from Wisdom for Everyday Living

proverbs booklet

Andrew Kooman: Queen Bathsheba, it truly is an honour to meet you. I was pleased when your son Solomon gave me your cell number and suggested I ask you a few questions that were on my mind when I met with him for a conversation a few weeks ago.

Queen Bathsheba: Thank you for having me.

AK: I feel a bit sheepish, but I’ve gotta get this out of the way: historians aren’t exaggerating when they say you are one of the most beautiful women in the Bible. I’m sure you hear that a lot.

QB: You’re very kind. Who do they say the other two are?

AK: Queen Esther and Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Apparently she sent men’s hearts a flutter into her late 90s.

QB: She is stunning, I can tell you that much. We have a book club and so we see each other quite often. We call it The Babes of the Bible Book Circle. Esther made up some T-shirts. They’re a hoot. But trust us, we want to be known for more than our beauty.

AK: Hence the book club?

QB: And this interview. [Laughs]

AK: I think there’s a lot we don’t know about you, especially the people of this century. And to be honest, I think both men and women are guilty of objectifying you as, to borrow the slogan on your T shirts, a babe of the Bible and nothing else. But there’s much more.

QB: I’d like to think so.

AK: Now, for our readers, I want to state that over the phone and through a bit of emailing back and forth you made it clear that you are comfortable if I ask you questions about the passage in the Scriptures that you are known for.

QB: My adultery with David.

AK: Yeah. Is that still okay?

QB: Of course. That’s why I’m here. I have nothing to hide. God, in his wisdom, instructed the scribes to include the story in his Word, and it is a story that can be used and has been used to teach important truth to his people.

AK: It amazes me that you are so open to do that.

QB: Let me just say that the reason I am able to talk about this, something that has the potential to be so shameful and disgraceful, is because I’ve received the grace of God and because this story, despite all its twists and turns, has become a story of redemption. So it is worth talking about.

AK: Cool. Before we go there, though, there are a few things I want to talk about first.

QB: Of course.

AK: I think a lot of Christians don’t know that you were very connected to King David’s family before the incident we read about in 2 Samuel.

QB: That’s right. David and I were by no means strangers to each other. My grandfather Ahithophel was one of King David’s most trusted advisers. He was one of the most respected elders in all of Israel.

AK: Sort of Karl Rove or Condaleeza Rice to President Bush.

QB: Mmm, I guess you could say so, at a political level.

AK: And the rest of your family?

QB: My father was an incredible man. Israelites and our enemies knew him as on of the Thirty, valiant warriors who fought alongside David during his rise to the throne and into his Kingship. He won great victories for King David.

AK: And then of course there was your husband Uriah the Hittite who was another valiant warrior in the King’s army, another one of the Thirty.

QB: Yes, another incredible, heroic man.

AK: So your family was known in the nation and highly respected. These were national heroes.

QB: Great men. It’s hard to convey their valour to people today. It’s not the same. You like hockey here in Canada, right?

AK: Yep. People go crazy for it.

QB: Well, these men were kind of like that, revered by little kids and by women and men like the great sportsman are of your day.

AK: Except with swords and shields instead of hockey sticks.

QB: It’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s a reference point I guess.

AK: I guess that raises an interesting point. The cultures we come from are quite different. I feel there are a number of things we have to name and clear out of the way before we can discuss things like marital faithfulness. Something I think a lot of believers today can’t grasp about your day is the fact that men, and especially kings, had lots of wives and concubines. I kind of feel that some people reading our conversation could not pay any attention to someone from a polygamous background who might give advice about marriage or sexual fidelity. What can you say to us about that?

QB: Well, that you’re right. A lot of people will disregard everything I have to say and to most of those people who would automatically brush me off, there’s really nothing I can say. But about polygamy, what I would say is that it was always God’s intention that marriage and sex be between one man and one woman.

Sebastiano Ricci - Bathsheba at the bath (1720s) (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest /Szepmuveseti Muzeum)

AK: See, I agree with that, but how am I supposed to account for things like Solomon’s 700 wives! Or your husband David with his multiple wives and concubines. I mean, among all the men in the Bible he’s the most admired. He’s the Man After God’s Own Heart, but some of the details of his life seem impossible to account for today.

QB: You’re right to talk about the heart. Remember that when man looks at the outward things, God sees into the heart. I’m not trying to justify any sort of sinful behaviour. God’s standard of holiness is high.

AK: And that’s never an excuse to sin: “Oh, I can’t please Him anyway, so I’ll just fool around and then receive his grace.”

QB: Of course not. But God is patient and slow to anger. He is committed to his people and the human race. He really wants them to learn his ways so that the things people do to please him are done authentically from the heart. I think one of the writers from your century, William Gibson, said it wonderfully in his play The Miracle Worker.

AK: That’s the story of Helen Keller, right?

QB: Yes. A beautiful story. We recently read it in our book club – love it! But there’s this line in the play when Annie, Helen’s careworker realizes that obedience, without understanding, is a form of blindness too. You have to read the play to get the full impact, but the line reveals the heart of God. He wants us to obey him with our hearts and minds willingly engaged with understanding, otherwise we’re just living like blind and deaf brutes.

AK: So how do you explain something like polygamy in Israel’s history?

QB: Look at the history of my people from Adam to the Exodus out of Egypt and onward to the exile into Babylon. For more that 1500 years the main issue God wanted to deal with in Israel was its tendency to turn to other gods. God was most concerned with this sin at a national level. After 586 BC, when Israel was nearly wiped out for good by Babylon, God gets his message across, and idolatry isn’t a sin Israel struggles, really struggles, with anymore.

AK: So, you think God addresses one big issue at a time.

QB: Well, I can’t guess the mind of God, but I do think he understands humankind and that he is realistic. He’s fully aware just how damaged the world and humanity is by original sin. If he wanted to deal with every sin issue in our hearts we couldn’t handle it, we wouldn’t be able to grow because we’d be dead. God patiently deals with the big issues and slowly sanctifies us. It’s a process. We’re the ones that get weird ideas about holiness and demand the impossible from ourselves. We can’t be perfect on our own, but with pure hearts that seek to honour God, we please him.

AK: I guess if I look at my own life that makes sense. I can look back and see God prying open my life and dealing with certain sins, and lies I believe, sort of working through issues and moving on to others.

QB: And I think that over time, God’s people started to see his intention for sex and marriage. I mean, ask most God-fearers if it is right to have more than one spouse or sexual partner and nine times out of ten you’ll get a big No.

Look at the issue of slavery. Did God ever want people to be enslaved to others. Not at all. He created humankind in his image, to be free. But God allowed slavery. Slavery is a reality of human selfishness and sin. With these issues that were not ideal, God put very strict rules and parameters around them. Read Old Testament law and compare the lives of women or concubines or slaves in Israel to the lives of their counterparts in pagan nations and you’ll see a big difference.

AK: Was their lot better in Israel?

QB: Oh, absolutely. Way better. And remember, it took almost 2000 years after Jesus’ declaration that he came to set captives free, to release the yoke of slavery, before the enslavement of people became abhorrent to the world in the 1800s, before the slave trade was abolished through the work of people like William Wilberforce, and Hannah More, and Granville Sharp and many others in Britain. Of course Jesus was talking about spiritual bondage, but I believe he came to abolish all forms of slavery.

AK: Even though there are still major issues of human trafficking and slavery today?

QB: But the world – most governments – consider it wrong, which wasn’t the case 2000 years ago. The slave trade, until the 1800s propped up every major empire. The kindness of the Lord, his patience, really does lead to repentance and change. That’s the only way change can happen, with patience and understanding. Otherwise we’d all be dead. God would grow tired of us.

AK: I think something else I’d like your perspective on is the place of sex, the relationship the individual person is to have to it. My suspicion is that though our cultures at the level of mainstream values are very different, no matter what, people in your day and mine struggle with the appeal and the power and the place of sex in their lives.

QB: Our cultures are quite different in their view of sex. You live in a time that comes after the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Both movements had their pros and some very real cons, one of which is that sexual activity and practices have very few restraints or taboos. And I think it is important to note a fundamental shift in the cultural belief in the purpose of sex.
Agreed, I think sex has always been about pleasure, but it’s more than that too. However, people in my day were much more family oriented and took much more seriously God’s repeated command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Having children was, at a national level, a means of survival in what was more often than not a violent international political climate, and important at a social level as well. Bringing life into the world was a foundation of our society.
But what I observe about the present century is that sex is very much about personal right and the expression of the individual will, and so it is more selfish and further removed from its original intent. But I say that recognizing that since the fall of man there has been countless ways sex has been misused and perverted.

AK: Old Testament Israel had very clear outlines about who should have sex with who, and what is good sex, morally and what is bad sex, morally.

QB: Well, let’s face it, in a godly relationship, even bad sex is good sex. [Laughs]

AK: Queen Bathsheba!

QB: Well?

AK: So, given what you know about North American Society, what’s your advice about how we should handle sex?

QB: That’s a difficult question. And sort of broad in its scope.

AK: Let’s start with the family. What can Christian parents do to help their kids live godly sex lives? I find that where the world is open about sex, the Church seems quiet. I mean, look at the magazine rack in the grocery store or watch prime time television for fifteen minutes. The world screams sex. And if you look at statistics in the Church itself, it’s clear there are a lot of sexual issues: a divorce rate that mirrors the world’s and surprising stats of pre and extra marital sexual activity. I don’t think that the North American Church as a whole is setting young men and women up for success.

QB: I agree. My heart breaks when I turn on the TV and see celebrity journalism running after wild young entertainers, reporting on young girls running from club to club without their underwear on. And these girls are the role models for young kids across the continent, and teach more about sex and sexual ethics with one indiscretion than the Church does in a whole year of ministry. Your culture is broken sexually like many great nations have been in the past. The world always has been. There is nothing new under the sun. What the church needs to do is have a dialogue within itself and with the world about what God’s view of sex and sexuality is. This is an area the church is not leading or serving the world as effectively as it can.

Sex is beautiful and powerful. And any thing that is good and powerful can be dangerously misused. But as God-fearers that is never any reason to shy away from the potential danger. We need to go to the dangerous places, but with much wisdom. Look how the ancient Israelites addressed sex. The Song of my son Solomon is a perfect example. It is probably the most beautiful ancient writing about erotic love and it is so without being pornographic. It’s very explicit, and I apologize to many Christians who refuse to read it as anything but an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. It’s a celebration of human love with a very clear warning about the power of sexual love. It’s a fire that must only be lit when God creates the space in a person’s life for it. This song wasn’t taboo for Jews, but it wasn’t read flippantly either. It was read publicly once a year among the tribes and otherwise it was forbidden anyone under 30 years old and unmarried to read on their own.

To me, that is one example of a way to communicate about sex. Highlight that it is a good gift from God, exciting, fulfilling, with a very clear time and place for it in the individual’s life: in a trusting relationship between a woman and a man.

I think the church needs to re-mythologize sex, in a way.

AK: What do you mean by that?

QB: It needs to take ownership of it, in a sense, by living out pure sexual relationships, relationships of commitment and fidelity, where sex is a gift and a joy that God gave to produce fruit: children, more life. God has always intended this. “Be fruitful and multiply.” The Church needs to re-imagine sex as something that is more than a primal, selfish, and very individual pleasure. Sex needs to be spiritual and fruitful again, a celebration of life, a union through which children can be brought safely and lovingly, and happily into the world. That kind of sex is good sex.

AK: We know from Samuel’s account in Scripture that your first child was not born into safe and healthy circumstances.

QB: No, he wasn’t.

AK: I’m sorry for the loss you suffered, both your husband Uriah, and your child.

QB: Thank you. It’s amazing that even despite the forgiveness and healing I’ve received from the hand of God, their deaths still hurt.

AK: What have you learned from this situation; what can we learn from your mistakes?

QB: Well, overall, that stepping away from God’s standard, no matter how much sense it makes in the moment, no matter how strongly your desire or longing is for it – we can go mad with desire, can’t we – no matter how good the little deviation promises to be, no matter how satisfying the moment of instant gratification is, that it is not worth it. Run child, run from it. Righteousness is more difficult, sin is so easy. But righteousness wins the day. Through it, you build a strong foundation. With sin, you cannot stand.

But beyond that, what I’d like to say is that sexual sin doesn’t just happen, and that there is truth to the statement that you reap what you sow. If you sow unfaithfulness, you will reap it. Unfaithfulness in any kind of relationship or circumstance, not just sexual relationships. Look at the political history of King David. Our sexual sin brought us both brutal blows. [Crying] The death of my son. A divided kingdom. A divided family. My grandfather, David’s key advisor, became a betrayer of the King and the entire nation and the seed of that betrayal came from the root of David’s sin with me. There were so many consequences from our affair. But with repentance there was healing and we moved on and God was with us.

AK: Talk more about what you said, that sexual sin doesn’t “just happen.”

QB: Well, I think people can set themselves up for success or for failure. We need to carefully guard our lives from temptation.

AK: How can we do that?

QB: I think you have a phrase something like garbage comes in then it goes out.

AK: Ah, Garbage In; Garbage Out.

QB: That’s the one. If you only eat burgers and French fries, if you don’t exercise, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself in the hospital with a heart attack. In all areas of our lives we need to be proactive. King David stayed in his palace during the time of year when Kings go to battle. He was where he shouldn’t have been, and so was I, bathing in sight of the King. People invite sexual sin by not ruthlessly addressing temptation or fleeing from evil. Sexual sin is committed by people who more often than not create a climate for it. We need to live in such a way, set up our lives, so that it is very difficult to fall into sinful behaviour.

AK: Just like if you want to avoid a heart attack, you guard your diet and you exercise.

QB: Exactly. In the same way, we need to be disciplined in what we see with our eyes, think with our minds, what we do with our bodies, to avoid spiritual heart failure. We need to cultivate healthy appetites from everything to physical food, to spiritual food, and sex. And I think you can ingrain healthy appetites at a very young age into your children. You can help establish healthy habits and outlooks. If parents always take their kids to McDonalds, the kids will likely crave a fast food diet. If parents are active in sports and fill their cupboards with healthy food, it is less likely that the parents and the kids will struggle with weight. In the same way parents are hugely responsible for the sex lives of their kids.

AK: How so?

QB: Sons and daughters see the way their fathers treat their mothers, they pick up on how they talk or think about sex by the shows and movies they watch, by the conversations parents have with friends, by how they generally go about their lives. Mom, do you buy those silly magazines at the grocery store that give wrong ideas about body image and sexual practices? Dad, how do you look at women when they walk by you on the street.
A strong family with godly parents is a good sex education. Mothers and fathers that love each other and have a godly relationship to sex will multiply the same values in their children.

AK: That’s hard, because there are so many single parents.

QB: True. And I admit, when there is an absence of a parent, mother or father, every part of child-rearing is more difficult, but it is also not impossible. So the church needs to strongly and clearly model things like godly sexual practices. Churches are meant to be families. As a Church, we need very strong family practices and values.