There are valuable lessons to be learned in King David's struggle with lust. With his looks, talents, achievements, and position in society, he had plenty of opportunity to gratify his flesh. He also had a winsome personality that made it easy for women to fall in love with him.
David did not feel he had to build a harem that would outdo those of his peers, as Solomon did, but he did succumb to the vanity of having one. He brought much grief to himself and his family through multiple marriages.
God took David's inherent weaknesses into account in His dealings with him. He considered the degree of temptation David had to face because of his position as king with women throwing themselves at him, and men looking for political advantages offering him their beautiful daughters as wives. God also considered what a heady thing it was for David to become king, after having been picked on by a crowd of older brothers throughout his childhood and unjustly dismissed by them as being spoiled, bratty, and irresponsible.
Now David had position and power, and those brothers were bowing their knees to him and in awe of his privileges, which included taking the most beautiful women in the land as wives and marrying foreign princesses, as well. Who would have thunk that little brother would rise so high? It is understandable that he would want to show off a bit to those louts. Bearing with David in the custom of his culture, God told David He would have given him more wives if he had asked, rather than that he should steal any other man's wife.
That does not mean God approves of polygamy. It just means He is patient, if people will at least try to do the right thing. The right thing would have been to have only one wife, but David assumed financial responsibility for all these women and their children, protected them, and gave them respectability through marriage. He might have succumbed at some point in his life to the wiles of a courtesan and contracted VD, which God healed him of, as I surmise from Psalm 38 and Psalm 40, but it was not his habit to have sex with harlots.
It is evident that David's lack of self–control denied him the opportunity to realize God's best in sexuality and companionship with a woman, which can be realized only within the framework of monogamy. In his eulogy of Jonathan, he exclaims that their friendship surpassed the love of women. This signifies how shallow his relationships were with women. It would have been more accurate for him to say, "Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of wenching."
David's affection for women was rather like a hobby. He treated them as comparatively trivial to men. This does not give a woman confidence in a man, which is required before she can open her soul to the degree that is required for the deepest kind of satisfaction in marital relationships.
A woman does not feel she is truly appreciated if her husband is not faithful to her alone. Also, it is hard for a woman to respect a man who is a dope about women, however much he may excel in other ways. I imagine that Queen Esther, though she was loyal to her husband and treated him with respect as both her husband and king, in a corner of her heart considered him a bit of a child.
David's level of maturity did not equip him for the best in male/female relationships. I doubt that his relationships with women came even halfway to that. It seems unlikely that a regular joe who is reasonably happy with his wife would turn to his best friend and say "Hey, buddy, I love ya more than my missus."
David did not have deep spiritual intimacy with women, though he had one wife he could have realized this with, if he had been married to her alone. If he had, at least, stopped marrying other women after he married Abigail, he could have developed a relationship with her that would have been deep and rich, however much it fell short of being the best.
Abigail had grace, beauty, wisdom, and character. What more could a man ask for? He didn't need her for children. Ahinoam had already given him a son and Amnon might have turned out better, if he had not had to share his father with a pack of wives and so many siblings. And if David hadn't married any other women, there would not have been a beautiful half–sister for Amnon to get hot and bothered about and commit an incestuous rape.
I have no doubt that Abigail and Ahinoam did not want David to marry any more wives, but what could either of them say? David was going to do what he wanted to do, and if they had made a hint of protest, their relationship with their husband would have been weakened further because polygamy was allowed in their culture.
Abigail married David after being oppressed by marriage to a fool. In her high regard for God's calling on David, her appreciation for David's sensitivity (which was far superior to Nabal's), and her admiration for his attractive appearance, she accepted his offer without waiting for a better one. Was it possible that she could have had a better one? In that culture, maybe not.
There is no record detailing what her financial position was. Nabal might have had children from a deceased wife; maybe they inherited his estate, or maybe Abigail had a parent in the wings waiting to swoop on her to marry her off to someone who was profitable to them, uncaring if Abigail considered the man repulsive. She hurried to take David up on his offer, and I doubt it was because of lust, regardless of how good–looking he was. I think that someone was going to try to profit by selling her off into a miserable situation.
Even if Abigail inherited Nabal's husband's estate, David was the probably the best husband she could get. When she married him, he was a renegade, but she knew that he would be the king. So, he turned out, in a social sense, to be a great catch, but she did not get to spend a lot of personal time with him. She had to share him right at the start with another woman.
Scripture also indicates that Abigail experienced the sorrow of losing the son she bore David, probably when he was still a child. I don't think Abigail's marriage lived up to her hopes, but she was the sort of woman who would try to make the best of it. She could console herself that it was better than being married to Nabal. I think God used her in David's house to counterbalance his impulsive temper.
David's harem was a hotbed of unrest. It bred jealousy, intrigues, incest, murder, and treason. He may have been loaded with testosterone, but he over–reached himself. It is a wonder that he managed to administrate a kingdom, fight battles, have a prayer life, write psalms, play instruments, build a palace, draw plans for the Temple, and lead praise and worship, never mind find time to be married and dandle babies on his knees. With that kind of schedule, David would have been hard pressed to keep even one wife happy. His wives' dissatisfaction showed up in the children as David's sons, probably urged on by their frustrated mothers, competed with each other for their father's throne.
The unicorn led David to cast his eyes on another's man paddock. That silly filly Bathsheba should not have been on her roof taking a bath under the king's nose in the first place. It seems incredible to me that a woman living so close to the palace would consider her roof to be private. The alacrity with which she complied with David's summons and hopped into his bed indicates Bathsheba set it up. Probably not in a shrewd way. Her approach more likely was formulated by a series of denials, whereby she kidded herself about her motives for having a bath on her roof.
Bathsheba was married to a man old enough to be her father. In fact, Uriah and her father had fought battles together, were part of David's inner circle, and they were good friends. Uriah was a steady, kind man, but she chafed for more glamour and excitement in her life. Being married to a man who was close to the king and living next to the palace had seemed to promise a possibility of it. Uriah, however, was too sober–minded to be interested in the society scene.
Bathsheba was an earthy type of woman. Maybe she longed for companionship with a man more at her own level. Though Uriah doted on her, she was frustrated with being treated like a pet. I doubt that he confided serious matters to her. She was not all that bright and would not have comprehended the sort of things Uriah had to deal with in his career. She did comprehend that she was not considered too exceptional in the brain department. She resented it, however accurate this assessment of her intellect was.
Though Bathsheba was not too lively in the head, she was lively in the bed and her sexual needs were not being met. Her husband was away engaged in war. Being bored, she likely stared out of the window at the palace a lot and came to notice how the king liked to stroll on the roof when he couldn't sleep at night.
David had plenty of beautiful wives; cool, regal women accustomed to court life. Maybe Bathsheba fantasized what it would be like to be a queen. Her grandfather served high in David's court as his closest counsellor. Bathsheba had not been unacquainted with the court prior to marriage, but she still did not have as much prestige there as she desired.
It would make her day if the king thought she was beautiful enough to be noticed and longed for and give those haughty queens a few tweaks of jealousy. Vanity joined Lust to nudge her onto the roof, whispering in her heart, "It's cool on the roof. It would be refreshing to bathe there." Yes, she would do that tomorrow. Of course, she would be sure to go up at an hour when the king was likely to have gone to bed, so nobody could say that she thought she would be seen. "Oh, yes. Of course!" Lust affirmed encouragingly in her ear. I wonder if her maid knew what she was up to when Bathsheba ordered a bath on the roof and dithered around in it.
David lost credibility and respect when he took Bathsheba's bait. She must have been coy all the way, flattering David with feeble protests, making him feel like a powerful man because his lovely, youthful prey was too afraid to deny him.
There are plenty of women who behave like fluff–brains, getting themselves into predicaments where they can be seduced. A woman who is determined to maintain her purity arms herself mentally for it, avoids compromising situations as much as possible, and usually can find her way out of the rare, sticky situations that occur. She doesn't stand paralyzed, blinking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. If she has to toss furniture around and break some windows to fight her way out, she goes at it with gusto. After all, the person who is really to blame for the damage is the person who tries to perpetrate the crime.
Bathsheba got herself in too far by engineering the seduction of a man in David's position. To back out would have been humiliating to her. David might have retreated into a posture of outrage at her audacity in leading him on in the first place. It was up to David, as the one with more mature faith and greater responsibilities, to declare the thing a bad idea and send Bathsheba home. He could have been kind about it, sparing her ego, apologize for lusting for her, and gently warn her to be more modest in the future.
Only God knows what the blessings were that David aborted because he idled about in Jerusalem, instead of joining his men in war. By not going home to his wife and giving a little speech about it, Uriah hinted to David that he should be on the battlefield attending to the Lord's business, instead of wallowing in ease and luxury. David felt nettled by Uriah's rebuke, however tactful, as well as frustrated in his desire to cover his tracks. If he had not been available to Bathsheba to entertain and entice him to cave in to his lust, his sons might have turned out to be better men.
When the unicorn prodded David into committing adultery with Bathsheba, his behaviour was too outrageous to be overlooked. He brought reproach on God's name by having a man murdered, so he could marry his wife to hide his sin. The consequences rampaged throughout his house and his kingdom.
David's chief general, already a hard–headed, hard–hearted man, became more confirmed in his ways and more difficult to deal with. At David's command and for his own ambition, Joab spilled innocent blood. One more rival out of the way and one more favour David owed him now. He despised David for being as callous as himself and taking away the grudging pride he had in serving him.
Later, Joab conspired against David's choice of an heir, seeing in Adonijah someone he could manipulate easier than Solomon. Also, he probably considered Bathsheba to be a silly, troublemaking, scheming, social–climber whom he'd rather not be bothered with. It may have rubbed at his conscience that he had murdered her husband and did not want to deal with her for that reason, as well. In a position of power, Bathsheba might exact some revenge for it, though Uriah's death had led to her position as Queen Mother.
Bathsheba's grandfather was furious at David for lending himself to her disgrace and killing a close friend. He bided his time to pay David back. It was Ahithophel who suggested to Absalom that he defile his father's concubines on the very rooftop where David had watched his granddaughter bathe.
Ahithophel's name means "brother of impiety". I suppose his parents thought he was a cute, cheeky little fellow when he was a baby. Very likely, he had an engaging, lively personality and enjoyed a lot of camaraderie with David when they were alone, both of them bubbling with humour. David described him as his own familiar friend, whom he had trusted and shared meals with. Ahithophel was the closest friend David had after Jonathan. When Ahithophel turned away from God to nurse his bitterness, his name lost its charming connotations and became prophetic of the poison that penetrated his soul.
David's sons lost respect for him and some became apostate. They told him lies. They rebelled against his authority. War broke out and Absalom proved he was no better than the brother he had judged. In fact, ten times worse in the matter of committing incest for he had sex with ten of his father's concubines. Four of David's sons died due to his folly with Bathsheba.
David saw he needed to do something about his lack of restraint in his sexual appetite when Nathan confronted him with his sins. He realized he needed God's help, as is evident when he later gave God the glory for delivering him from the horns (the temptations) of the unicorns (demons of lust).
David's sons followed their father's bad example and chased the unicorn themselves. In Amnon's case, it led him to rape and incest. It was scummy of his cousin to advise him how to get to his half–sister so that he could rape her. Not only was it a crime against womanhood and decency, but that girl was his cousin, too. Tamar, however, was not going to be the king someday, as Jonadab supposed that Amnon would be, and he wanted to win some points with the future king.
David did not deal adequately with Tamar's rape. He was furious about it, but he didn't do anything substantial to discipline his son. He should have, at least, declared Amnon forever ineligible as his heir and exiled him. Maybe he threatened to do this, but Absalom didn't say anything that would have confirmed to David that he should. He said nothing at all. David, because he was overly sentimental about his children, let himself be lulled into thinking that the crime was not as serious as he initially supposed.
Absalom wanted to keep Amnon close at hand and was able to pull the wool over David's eyes about his intentions toward his brother. He made out to his sister that it wasn't such a bad thing because it was in the family, but Amnon was a marked man from the day that he raped Tamar. Absalom only waited opportunity. He preferred to kill Amnon himself rather than demand justice from the king.
David spoiled his children, giving them too many material things, privileges they did not earn, and leniency that was not warranted, instead of discipline and attention they desperately needed from him. He certainly did not deal with the matter of his daughter's rape to her satisfaction. The Bible says she received no closure. She remained desolate in her brother's house. Maybe David had far too much sympathy for men in the matter of lust because his own self–control was so poor.
He had the sense to see that his older sons were out of control after Absalom murdered his brother. God reassured David that, at least, one of his sons would be capable of ruling in his place. He promised David that Solomon would be his heir. Judging from Proverbs 4:4, David realized he needed to spend some quality time with the boy to prepare him for kingship.
In old age, David's sex drive finally diminished to where it was not such a problem anymore. God gave David an opportunity to let him demonstrate if he would control it, now that it was easier for him to do so.
As David was nearing the end of his days, the spirit of death worked on his body, stroking him with its cold fingers, weakening his will to live. His courtiers, concerned over his shivering discomfort, and knowing his legendary zest for pretty women, resolved to find a really gorgeous one to warm him up. They made a beauty contest of it, since it was the king, after all, whom they wanted to please. They did not miss an opportunity to flatter him and angle for political favours.
The most beautiful virgin in Israel was fetched to engage his interest. Those dirty, old guys didn't give any thought to how a teen–aged virgin would feel about being married to an old geezer. All he really needed was a warm body, and he already had lots of wives and concubines who could have taken turns to cuddle him in bed to warm him up.
Did David still have some of the old zing left in him? Some might say he used Abishag's body only for warmth, rather than cheer as well, because his testosterone tank was on empty. I think that anybody who let Lust wreak as much havoc in his life as David did before he wised up, probably would still be capable of an encore even on their deathbed.
Why did David not avail himself of the pleasure offered him? Abishag was the envy of his court; a delight to his eyes and a trophy for his ego, but he learned to care about someone else's feelings more than his own. I think he finally resolved his lack of respect towards women.
Abishag was young enough to be David's granddaughter. He may have been a handsome, old gentleman; but an old gent, especially one near his last gasp, is normally not appealing in a physical way to a young woman. I think David considered this, and it was a link in the chain that restrained him.
Also, if he had sexual relations with Abishag, he would have consigned her to a lifetime of celibacy after his imminent death, regardless that the king who ruled after him would inherit his harem. God gave Saul's wives to David. That is fine, if the heir is not the son of the previous king. David might have only continued their support, without taking them into his bed. (Some of those ladies were a lot older than him.) In Solomon's case, he inherited the responsibility of the upkeep of his father's harem, but not its pleasures. The Law of Moses says it is an abomination for a son and a father to be sexually intimate with the same woman. If David had indulged his selfishness, he would have denied a beautiful, lively, young woman the opportunity to remarry.
Besides this, a king's wives and concubines were not free to remarry anyone but the next king, if it did not entail incest. In Middle Eastern culture at that time, a man who married a wife or concubine of a deceased king gained a legal claim to his throne. This is why Ishbosheth questioned Abner about his affair with Saul's concubine. That law relates to how having sex makes a person one flesh with another. It was supposed that something of a person's essence survives in those with whom they are sexually intimate.
Abner was ticked off at Ishbosheth for not trusting him and defected to David as a result. Also he may have felt it was an insult to his lover, Rizpah, to suggest that his interest in her was political rather than passionate. This way of making a claim to a king's throne is part of the reason Solomon broke his word to his mother to grant her request, and ordered Adonijah's execution instead.
Adonijah steered Bathsheba into asking Solomon to give him Abishag for his wife. I think Bathsheba was jealous of Solomon's love for Abishag and saw her as a threat to her influence with her son. She wanted her out of the way, but she was not all that bright about the political ramifications of Adonijah's request. Though Abishag was a spouse to David in name only, it still would have strengthened Adonijah's claim to his father's throne to marry her. This would have given him an advantage over Solomon.
Solomon had another reason for his fury over Adonijah's request. In their book Romantic Lovers, David and Shirley Hocking say that they think Abishag was the beloved in the Song of Solomon. They think she was the one wife Solomon should have had. I agree on both counts.
Solomon already had several wives when he met Abishag, but she knocked him for a loop. Maybe David saw the answering glow in Abishag's eyes when she looked at Solomon as he visited him. It says a lot for David's character and improved wisdom towards his sons that he did not extinguish the couple's hopes.
I guess that Solomon experienced some anxiety about Abishag warming his father in his bed, in case his father made her ineligible for his own. Solomon fought valiantly to keep his jealousy and anxiety under control.
He could have absorbed Abishag into his harem in a routine way, as merely a concubine, if larks with her were all he was interested in. The fact that she was only a concubine to David indicates she was a commoner. Women from aristocratic, wealthier families had more bargaining power to become wives. By taking Abishag as a wife with lavish ceremony and feasting, Solomon demonstrated that he valued Abishag for more than just her outer beauty. Maybe the suspense of not knowing if he would get to marry her helped him appreciate her more.
It is heartening to see in the example of David's life how God helped him grow up. It is not fair to David to remember only his folly regarding the issue of lust. The whole issue of lust hinges on selfishness. Before his death, David finally came to regard women as full–fledged human beings who have needs as important as his own. This final triumph put another jewel in his heavenly crown.
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Taming the Unicorn, Chapter 9
Copyright © 2010, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on April 7, 2010
Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.