David and Bathsheba

A few years back in a sermon, I mentioned in passing the rape of Bathsheba by David. Unbeknownst to me, this is a very controversial view. The traditional view is that David saw Bathsheba seductively bathing on her roof and was overcome with lust. And after a torrid affair he succumbed and they both committed adultery. Perhaps you have heard it preached with the application that women need to be careful, because even a righteous man like David can be seduced by an adulteress.

The problem with the traditional view is that it isn’t what the scripture says. It is true that the word “rape” is not used. Nor is physical force mentioned, at least on David’s part. However, according to current laws and our current usage of the word, rape is indeed what happened to Bathsheba. If one responds by saying that our standard is scripture, and not modern standards, I would certainly agree. I am merely defining the word rape according to modern English usage. Rape, in modern English, is sexual intercourse or sexual activity without the consent of the victim. The word does not exist in the Old Testament, but sexual intercourse without consent certainly does.

It is my contention that this is what happened to Bathsheba. In this brief post, I wish to establish my reasons for saying so, and will establish those reasons from the scriptures alone. Second, I will briefly mention why I believe it is important to teach this passage accordingly. It is not a minor issue.

First, David’s sexual intercourse with Bathsheba was not consensual. Here is the text:

2 Samuel 11:1-4: It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.

Here are the reasons why I believe that the sexual activity was not consensual, and that rape is the appropriate word according to our modern usage.

First, Bathsheba was not on the rooftop seducing David. She was in the courtyard, with the full expectation of privacy according to the architecture of the ancient Jerusalem houses and the customs of the day. She was not languishing in a luxurious bubble bath, but doing the ritual cleansing after her monthly cycle was complete, according to the law of Moses. The courtyard would have been the appropriate place for doing so. David, however, was on the roof. There is nothing in the account that suggests that Bathsheba was acting seductively at all.

Second, David was the king of Israel. Bathsheba would not have considered herself to have had any choice in the matter, according to the custom of Ancient Near East kings. When they wanted something, they took it. Put yourself in her shoes. Would you have feared for your husband’s life? As it turns out, she had good reason to fear for Uriah. Would you have feared for your own safety? The king does as he pleases. In modern thinking, the power dynamic between David the king and Bathsheba the woman would have been such that the definition of rape would certainly be used. Powerful men can easily take what they wish whenever they wish, and the consent of the one taken is not considered at all.

The beautiful thing about the account is that David would have gotten away with it, except that God did not look the other way. God saw, and God brought vengeance. But Bathsheba would not have known this at the time.

Third, the servants sent by David “took” her. The consent of the person “taken” is not implied in the word at all. It is all passive. The one taking takes, the other is taken.

It is true that the scripture says, “She came in…” but would she have had a choice in the matter? Please do not say to me that she could have chosen death. It isn’t a simple as that. It wasn’t just her life that was in danger. Her husband and household would also be threatened, in her mind.

And why would losing her life have been a valid option? Such things should not even be thought of among those who value the life of image-bearers of God. This shows the cruelty of so much in the modern purity movement. “Sure, she would have been horribly and disgracefully killed, but at least she wouldn’t have defiled herself!”

Fourth, and most importantly – when Nathan comes to confront David in chapter 12, he lays no blame on Bathsheba whatsoever. In fact, nowhere in all of scripture is Bathsheba referred to as an adulteress, a seductress, or having any fault in the matter at all. Even David’s great psalm of repentance does not mention any fault in Bathsheba.

In fact, in Nathan’s parable, he compares Bathsheba to an innocent, powerless lamb, fitting point two above.

“And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” (2 Sam. 12:4)

She was not an equal. She was as a lamb before a powerful rich man. This was not a discussion, a negotiation, or even an implied agreement, much less was it a seduction. A lamb is not blamed for being chosen for dinner for being too delicious. The blame is all on the one who took; not the one taken.

So even though the word “rape” is not used, nor is it said that David forced her and lay with her (although the servants “took” her), yet the account does NOT teach that the consent of Bathsheba was involved. And without consent, the action was indeed rape, and not adultery.

Here is why this is important.

First of all, it is always important to make sure we are teaching scripture correctly and that we understand it correctly. We should always be willing and eager to subject our own ideas to the correction of scripture, no matter how long we have held those ideas. If they are not consistent with the scripture, they must be put off.

Second, in every congregation – EVERY congregation – there is at least one woman for whom Christ died who has been sexually assaulted by someone stronger and more powerful that she.

She has also been told by her attacker that it was her fault. She seduced him. She didn’t dress right. She was at the wrong place. She drank too much. She led him on. And it doesn’t matter how heinous her attack was, you can guarantee that she has heard that it was (at least a little) HER fault.

And her one safe place was her church. And now she hears the pastor teach that Bathsheba seduced David and they committed adultery. A small knife enters her heart and she dies a little inside.

Who will believe me? Where can I go?

Why is it that powerful men take whatever they want and society blames the lamb for being eaten, the woman for being raped, the child for being abused?

Even when God does not place blame, the pastors jump in and do it for him. The one punished is not the one who took and ate. The one punished is the one who was taken and eaten.

We have excommunicated or disciplined women for being raped. Children for being assaulted. Wives for being beaten. And not content with destroying our own flocks, we go after Bathsheba, whom God himself refused to blame.

Perhaps an example will help. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, she tells of a disastrous school year with an incompetent teacher. One day, a prankster puts a bent pin under a boy’s seat. He sits down, and immediately yelps and jumps up.

The teacher punishes the boy who sat on the pin for yelping.

Later, the school board comes to visit. One of the board-members looks at this boy and says, “I understand you were punished for sitting on a pin.”

He answered, “No, sir. I was punished for getting off the pin.”

Far to often in our churches, we punish the one who gets off the pin.

And that, it seems to me, is foolish and wicked.

The wise man is one who can discern between right and wrong, between the wicked and the innocent, between good and evil.

Perhaps we should follow Nathan’s example and place the blame where it belongs.

“Thou are the man”

(Disclaimer: this is not an “anti-man” post. This is an “Anti-abusive-man post”. There are men who are faithful, kind, and just. There are women who are abusive and cruel. There are women who are faithful, kind, and just. There are men who are abusive and cruel.)

17 Comments

Filed under Abuse

17 responses to “David and Bathsheba

  1. Kathryn Meece

    Thank you for sharing this truth. My amazing husband’s has also held this view of David and Bathsheba’s encounter. He sent me your article. I work as A SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner). You have brought me comforter and I will share your article with others to hopefully bring comfort to them as well. Thank you.

    • Janice

      I grew up in churches where this story was incorrectly taught…yes,David was wrong but Bathsheba was also at fault. Labeling it adultery implies a choice on both sides. Thank you Pastor Sam for helping to bring this truth to so many.Abuse of power is expected and sadly tolerated in society but when that same attitude is found in “Bible believing and teaching” churches it is women and children who suffer from the bad fruit of this heinous sin.

  2. Helen

    This is beautiful.
    Thank you.

  3. Cindy McMillan

    I enjoyed your take on David and Bathsheba. I never thought any different. I don’t think I was ever taught any different. God has always been merciful to me. As a person who was abused as a child God always showed me that it was not my fault. I do feel for women that have been taught different especially by the church.

  4. Reuben Jansen

    Deuteronomy 22:23-27 gives the scriptural standard for what a woman is required to do in a situation like this. The picture that you paint, Bathsheba as an unwilling, silent sheep, makes her culpable by this Biblical standard. It doesn’t take away any of David’s fault, of course, but if the picture that you paint is correct, then Bathsheba did incur blame for her silence.

    • The law provided for wise judges and wise elders in every city, who were expected to hear cases and decide based upon wisdom.. The case laws given by Moses were intended to give the principles of wise rule. For example, the law that requires a parapet around the roof of the house is not intended to cover EVERYTHING that builders are to do, as a bare minimum – but it establishes the principle that we are to value our neighbor’s life, even when we are building a house.
      The passage you cite establishes only one thing: the principle of consent. Wise men and women know that there are many, many ways to establish consent or lack of consent. You state that Bathsheba would have been stoned under this principle, and yet there is no mention of her guilt at all? No mitigation of her punishment? Not even a whisper of culpability?
      Sorry. Any judge who would say that the woman consented because she didn’t “cry out” according to his satisfaction would not be a wise judge, but a foolish judge.
      In trauma, people tend to freeze and cannot think. In the middle of an attack by a powerful king’s servants, she wouldn’t even have had time to plan a strategy.
      Take, as an example, a woman is walking home from church one night with her father.
      A man jumps out at her and kills her father. He then holds a knife to her throat and tells her that if she makes a sound he will cut her. She is in shock. He rapes her.
      According to your logic, she would then be stoned because she didn’t “cry out”.
      I’m sorry, but this is not at all what God has in mind in Deuteronomy and it would be cruel and heartless and completely contrary to the character of God, who judges according to just judgment. This is the “law” of the Taliban, not Christ.

    • A further comment – suppose a young woman in the scenario above gets pregnant. And then she reads your teaching on Deuteronomy. Would she expect grace, compassion and support? Or would she expect what she fears the most – blame and shame.
      I have repeatedly said, “The church should ask itself why a young woman would be so desperate that she believes abortion is her only option. ”
      Your comment answers that question. So quick to heap blame and shame, even when God does not. When teaching like this prevails, which it has for decades, then sexual assault, rape, abortion, desperation, alcoholism, drug abuse will prevail. When the church offers no justice, no grace, and no hope, what are the sheep to do?

      • just ... K

        “What are the sheep to do?” … well we hide ourselves and tremble at the thought of once again darkening a church door – and by the grace of God, we find ourselves on blogs like this one, where we lay our heads on the Great Knee and weep with exhausted confidence because a strong, faithful and gentle pastor told us we would be welcome there.

      • You would be welcome here and you are always welcome in the arms of Christ.

      • Sloopjb

        What to do. Years of abuse that are behind and yet not. Where reading this brought tears because I’d only heard the other version. Yet this one spoke to my heart. The collision of physical and spiritual abuse makes returning to church so difficult. Lots of false starts and easy spooks and so far trying to explain to a pastor just meant I was disobedient. I’ve not been back. Right now blogs and pod casts are all I can handle. Thanks so much

      • I am so sorry for the experiences that you have had. They are far too common. I pray that you will find peace and rest in the glorious gospel of Christ. Peace will come, either in this life or when he comes to judge the living and the dead. But peace will come.
        May God grant it to you in this life.

  5. Helen (again)

    My husband and I were talking about this article and comments. He observed that in the book of Esther, the king had all the pretty girls gathered up for his harem. Kings could do things like that.

    • As the account shows, David – who was far, far more righteous than Xerxes, could order Uriah’s execution without question – except that God saw.
      Good comment. In that day, like most every day, you didn’t say no to the king.

  6. just ... K

    Praying that the glory, love, hope and peace that is Christmas would be with you and yours Pastor Powell. Thank you for faithfully sharing the treasures of Christ throughout the year with us here, on your blog. You are deeply appreciated.

  7. So grateful for this. Thank you.

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