Women of The Bible - Lesson 13
THE WITCH OF EN DOR
Scripture references: 1 Samuel 28:5–25
We know little of the “witch of En Dor,” who was a medium, a woman who had contact with a familiar spirit. It is not at all certain that this woman was a Hebrew. During the conquest, En Dor was a Canaanite stronghold that the Israelites had not been able to possess (Josh. 17:11). The city did lie in Israelite-controlled territory, however, and Saul, in obedience to Deuteronomy 18’s condemnation of occult practices of every kind, had set out to exterminate all mediums and spiritists (1 Sam. 28:9).
However, when the Philistines invaded Israel, and every attempt of Saul to seek counsel from the Lord was refused, the desperate king demanded that his servants find him a medium. When one was located at En Dor, Saul went there in disguise to consult with the demon that was her spirit contact.
The woman was reluctant to conduct a seance for the disguised Saul. When promised immunity, however, she did as asked. Even then, when Samuel actually appeared, the woman “cried out with a loud voice” (v. 12). Her reaction showed that the spirit that appeared was not the familiar spirit she had called upon, but Samuel himself, who then informed Saul that he was destined to die in the coming battle with the Philistines. Her reaction shows the true “happening” of séance’s; namely, that the so-called “loved one” who appears is actually a demon in disguise. The voluntary acceptance of demonic presence opens a person up to spiritual deception and destruction.
Saul, weak from hunger and shock, then fainted. The woman encouraged him to eat. Then Saul and his servants left her.
Like others dedicated to the occult, this woman had linked her future to evil forces. Despite the campaign Saul had launched to exterminate such persons, the medium of En Dor had been unable to break the spiritual bonds that held her. She lived in fear of exposure, yet was addicted to the relationship that had been established.
Let’s not be confused by television ads for psychic hot lines, or respond to magazine ads or articles with phone numbers that lure readers to consult a “friend” with supposed spiritual powers. It’s not surprising that so many lonely people, desolate teens, or desperate parents respond to these appealing but deceptive promotions. When we do feel the need for guidance, turn to God and Christian friends who can give us BIBLICAL guidance and advice. And then wait for the Holy Spirit to confirm a course as His way for us. If we have to wait a while for such confirmation, then we need to wait.
Date: About 990 b.c.
Name: Bathsheba [Bath-SHEE-bah: “daughter of an oath”]
Main contribution: Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon by David.
Bathsheba was married to Uriah, a Hittite who served as an officer in David’s army, and indeed is listed among the thirty-seven top-ranking heroes—David’s “mighty men” (2 Sam. 23:39). While the biblical text does not say so, the fact that Uriah had a house in Jerusalem near the palace may suggest that when the nation was not at war he served either as a military advisor, or in David’s palace guard.
We know little of Bathsheba’s early life. We do know, however, that she was “very beautiful.” The Hebrew text has two words that are typically used to describe personal appearance. One, yapeh, is rather mild and means, “good looking.” The other, tob, when applied to women’s looks, conveys sensual appeal. This woman is so beautiful that she arouses the desire of men who see her. Bathsheba was “very beautiful” in this second sense, and it was her beauty that would betray her.
One night when Uriah was away campaigning with the army, David saw Bathsheba bathing in her courtyard, and he was aroused. He sent servants to get her, had sex with her, and sent her home. But Bathsheba became pregnant. So David recalled Uriah, expecting him to sleep with his wife so the infant could be passed off as premature. But Uriah, feeling duty bound to share his army companions’ hardships, would not go home. Panicking, David sent instructions to his commanding general to expose Uriah to danger. The general did, and Uriah was killed. When David learned of his death, he sent for Bathsheba and married her.
Several details in the biblical account that tell how David saw and took Bathsheba make it clear that Bathsheba was an innocent victim.
- “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle” (2 Sam. 11:1). David should have been leading his troops, but instead he stayed in Jerusalem.
- “Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed” (v. 2). Bathsheba was bathing at night, when she might have expected others were sleeping.
- “And from the roof he saw a woman bathing” (v. 2). Bathsheba was bathing in the courtyard of her own house, where she could expect privacy.
- “He saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold” (v. 2). David could have turned away and respected Bathsheba’s privacy. But he reacted in a different way indeed!
- “So David sent and inquired about the woman” (v. 3). David took the initiative to find out about the woman he had seen. What David learned was that her name was Bathsheba, and she was married to Uriah the Hitite.
- “Then David sent messengers, and took her” (v. 4). Bathsheba was a woman alone, with her husband away at war. David was the king. When David’s men came to fetch her, she was unable to refuse.
- “She came to him, and he lay with her” (v. 4). Again David is cast as the actor, Bathsheba as the one acted upon. In saying “he lay with her” the inspired author makes it clear that the initiative came from David.
The text of Scripture makes it clear that we must view Bathsheba as a victim of David’s lust, not the seductress which she is sometimes portrayed to be. The Scripture’s portrait is clearly more in keeping with the reality of the power of ancient kings and the relative powerlessness of women of the royal court.
It is striking, in view of the way the marriage was launched, to discover that David and Bathsheba had four sons, whose names are listed in 1 Chronicles 3:5.
It is also impressive to see David portrayed in 2 Samuel 12:24 comforting Bathsheba after the death of the child she had conceived. Something had happened within the months from her betrayal to the stillborn birth to lead her to accept David as a comforter. Even more impressive is the story told in 1 Kings 2 and 3. There we see an aged and indecisive king who is about to die. Sensing his father’s weakness, one of his sons, Adonijah, proclaimed himself king. Nathan the prophet enlisted Bathsheba’s help to appeal to David. David had promised that their son Solomon would succeed him. Bathsheba reminded David that unless he acted, both Solomon’s life and her own life would be in danger. David was moved by the danger to Bathsheba, and roused himself enough to publicly anoint Solomon and thus save Bathsheba.
It is appropriate to ask what effected the radical change in the relationship between David and Bathsheba. At issue is not only what changed David’s attitude toward her, but also what enabled Bathsheba to forgive this man who treated her so brutally and to forge a loving, lasting marriage with him.
Second Samuel 12 relates the first step in the transformation. It took place when Nathan the prophet confronted David, accusing him of taking another man’s wife and then killing Uriah. David’s actions were totally “evil in His [God’s] sight” (2 Sam. 12:9). David’s response was to confess that “I have sinned against the Lord.” While Nathan announced that David’s sin would have unavoidable consequences, God declared to David: I have “put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).
Psalm 32:3–5, although not specifically linked to David’s sin with Bathsheba, reveals the inner turmoil sin creates in a basically decent person. It goes on to describe the relief that comes with confession and salvation.
This act of confession not only brought David peace, but also must have reoriented his relationship with Bathsheba. He had acted as he did because he viewed her as an object to possess rather than as a person of worth and value. In acknowledging his sin, David implicitly acknowledged that his way of relating to Bathsheba was flawed from the first.
While David’s confession to Nathan and to God began the process of transforming his attitude toward Bathsheba, something else was required if Bathsheba’s attitude toward David was to be transformed.
While Scripture is silent on this matter, the experience of other women who have been victimized as Bathsheba is suggestive. After being raped, women typically feel shame. Even when totally innocent of any responsibility for their mistreatment, victims typically feel guilty, and much of their anger is directed against themselves as well as their attacker. Victims of spouse abuse feel the same emotions. Many women feel that somehow they were to blame for their partner’s brutalizing them. The only way for a relationship involving such actions to be salvaged is for the man to take full, public responsibility for his actions. Confession and forgiveness then can lead to a healing of a violated relationship, and to the building of a happy, healthy marriage.
Strikingly, this is exactly the action that David took. The superscription of Psalm 51 tells us that David wrote this psalm and delivered it to the chief musician to be used in public worship. That superscription indicates the specific occasion on which the psalm was written: “when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” In this psalm David took full responsibility for what he had done, publicly confessing the sin he had committed in private.
David’s public confession was a first and necessary step in freeing Bathsheba to forgive herself and him. It laid the foundation on which a strong, loving, and lasting marriage could be built.
Bathsheba is an example of how God’s grace can heal the severely wounded, not allowing bitterness to obtain a stranglehold on one so buffeted by unfairness. (Compare to David’s first wife, Michal) Bathsheba’s experience reminds us that people, like relationships, are redeemable. Her experience also warns us that unless those who do us wrong are willing to accept responsibility for their actions, as David did, no reconciliation is possible.
Scripture reference: 2 Samuel 13
Date: About 975 b.c.
Name: Tamar [TAY-mahr: “palm tree”]
Main contribution: Tamar’s rape by a half-brother led to murder and ultimately rebellion against David.
Tamar was one of David’s daughters, the full sister of Absalom and half-sister of Amnon. She is described in Scripture as “lovely” (2 Sam. 13:1). She was in fact so lovely that her half-brother Amnon fell in love with her. A friend of Amnon’s suggested that he pretend to be sick, ask Tamar to bring him food, and then take her. Amnon followed this advice, and when Tamar rejected his advances, Amnon raped her.
Tamar left, crying bitterly. When her brother Absalom discovered what had happened, he advised Tamar, “hold your peace” and “do not take this thing to heart” (2 Sam. 13:20). The text says simply, “So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house” (2 Sam. 13:20). No emotional or spiritual resolution was pursued, which must have devastated Tamar.
While nothing more is said of Tamar, the rape had consequences beyond the young woman’s desolation. Absalom hated Amnon for what he had done, and he deeply resented David’s failure to deal with the matter. Two years later Absalom conspired to murder his half-brother. Then Absalom fled into exile for a time, but later he returned and led a rebellion against David that resulted in a devastating civil war.
Tamar seems to have been a total innocent, unaware of Amnon’s passion for her. When asked to bring him food, she prepared it herself and brought it to him. Even when Amnon sent everyone from the room, Tamar seems to have suspected nothing. She was shocked when Amnon propositioned her. She pointedly refused, but Amnon was unmoved and unwilling to settle for any delayed gratification. His passion demanded that he take her immediately. “Being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her” (v. 14).
Here the story takes a strange twist. The text tells us, “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone!” (v. 15).
Tamar was Absalom’s full sister, and his concern when she put ashes on her head and tore her robe—cultural symbols of extreme grief and distress—was obvious. That Absalom immediately asked whether Amnon was the cause of her distress indicates that Absalom was aware of Amnon’s infatuation with his sister.
But Absalom’s advice—“hold your peace” and “do not take this thing to heart”—shows how little Absalom understood how devastating the rape was to Tamar. Rape is not something any woman can or should simply shrug off. Rape is a violation that must be reported and dealt with if the victim is to find any sense of closure or recover her self-respect. The emotional damage is severe and must be dealt with. Clearly Absalom wasnot thinking of his sister’s welfare but of how he might take revenge on Amnon. It served Absalom’s purposes to have Tamar remain silent; it did not serve Tamar’s needs.
Two full years later Absalom had Amnon murdered, and Absalom fled the country. Absalom had his revenge, but had done nothing to help Tamar. The text simply tells us, “Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house” (2 Sam. 13:20).
Another telling comment in the biblical text reports that “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry” (v. 21). What the text does not report is any action on David’s part to right the wrong. He did not punish Amnon. He did not rebuke him. He did not follow the law and force Amnon to marry Tamar. David did nothing. David’s failure to act left Tamar to suffer in silence and ultimately led not only to Amnon’s murder but also to the rebellion that Absalom led against him.
All we know of Tamar after this is that she remained desolate in her brother’s house. In all likelihood, she stayed there until she died. Later Absalom named his own daughter after his sister. The gesture was, tragically, too little – and much, much too late.