There is an interesting discussion on Twitter on the affair of David with Bathsheba. I became aware of the discussion when Julie Ann Smith @DefendTheSheep tweeted: “Wow . . . we are back to blaming Bathsheba again. And this time by a woman.”
I was curious at what Julie Ann was referring to, until I read the four tweets by Jennifer Buck @JenniferBuch65. In her tweets, Jennifer defends David and blames Bathsheba for the affair. She tweets, “All of Israel knew David was a man of God. Bathsheba could have easily appealed to David, ‘As a man of God, why would you do this evil thing before your God?’ She did not appeal to him in that manner. I firmly believe scripture would have recorded such a conversation.”
Jennifer rejects “wholeheartedly” that Bathsheba was raped. She provides two reasons to declare that Bathsheba was not raped. The first is that after David saw Bathsheba, he sent his men to get her, and she came. She writes, “any woman perceiving rape will do anything to escape or to persuade her attacker to stop.”
The second reason was because if we say that Bathsheba was raped, then “we are saying God allowed Bathsheba to suffer not only the rape but to endure a misunderstanding of her actions from the time of David until the present.”
The attempts at defending David from the charge of rape is not new. In their book, Still Waters Run Deep: Five Women of the Bible Speak, Caspi, and Cohen write, “Rabbinic literature attempts to explain and solve some of David’s issues and his relationship with Bathsheba and Abishag, since in their minds he was the rightful and chosen founder of the royal house. There is no way for them to portray him, the King, the Psalmist and the source of the future Messiah as evil, human and weak” (Caspi and Cohen: 1999:54).
Another attempt to justify David’s affair with Bathsheba is by saying that his affair was a part of a divine plan. Caspi and Cohen write that, “according to R. Simeon bar Yohai, he said that God predestined the incident in order to teach the people of Israel the power of repentance” (Caspi and Cohen 1999:54). Thus, the Rabbis justify the violation of Bathsheba by claiming that it was predestined by God to teach repentance. David’s repentance is found in Psalms 51.
Jennifer’s defense of David is that he was a man of God, “a man after [the Lord’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and as such “Bathsheba could have easily appealed to David, ‘As a man of God, why would you do this evil thing before your God?’” The same argument was presented centuries ago by the Rabbis. One Rabbi said that because David was a man after God’s own heart and because the Lord was with David, he did not believe that David could sin.
Another way of defending David is by saying that Bathsheba enticed David to have sex with her by bathing nude on the rooftop of her house. One way of blaming Bathsheba is by saying that she desired to have a son by David so that her son would become king. In her article on Bathsheba, Gale Yee quotes R. C. Bailey who wrote that Bathsheba was “a co-conspirator in a political scheme to marry” David. She “is no longer an innocent victim but a willing partner in the affair who wishes her own son” to become king. David is able to convince her to marry him by promising that her son would be his heir to the throne” (Yee: 1992:1:627).
There are other reasons presented to deflect the guilt from David and place the guilt on Bathsheba for the whole affair. However, all these reasons are without merit. David was guilty of adultery and he forced himself on Bathsheba even though the word for “rape” does not appear in the text. In fact, the Hebrew Bible does not have a word for “rape.” The truth is that a man of God does not lust after the wife of one of his servants; an innocent man does not make plans to kill the husband of the woman he raped.
Brueggemann says that the affair of David with Bathsheba came at a time of “abrupt transition from a life under blessing to a life under curse” (Brueggemann 1990:272). To understand the fact that David’s affair with Bathsheba was rape, it becomes necessary to look at the facts in the story and see what the text says about David, the affair, and Bathsheba.
First, when David had an affair with Bathsheba, David already had many wives. Before David conquered Jerusalem, he already had seven wives. After he conquered Jerusalem, David “took more concubines and wives; and more sons and daughters were born to David” (2 Samuel 5:13). So, David’s affair with Bathsheba was not for love; it was pure lust. As Brueggemann puts it, “There is no hint of caring, of affection, of love–only lust” (Brueggemann 1990:273).
David committed adultery. Israel had severe laws prohibiting adultery, “If a man is discovered having sexual relations with another man’s wife, both the man who had sex with the woman and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22). David was guilty of violating adultery laws, but as king, it is doubtful that the legal system in Israel would put the king to death for committing adultery.
After David saw Bathsheba bathing, he sent messengers to find out who she was. David was told that she was a married woman named Bathsheba and that she was the wife of Uriah, one of the members of his elite group of soldiers. David knew that Bathsheba was married, but he took her to have sex with her.
David sent more than one messenger to bring Bathsheba to the palace, “David sent messengers” (2 Samuel 11:4). The messengers “took her” to David. Most English translations translate the Hebrew verb laqah as “get,” “David sent messengers to get her” (2 Samuel 11:4). However, the Hebrew verb means “to take” and in some contexts it means to take by force, even “to steal.” The text does not say whether Bathsheba came voluntarily or by force. The fact that David had to send several men to “take” Bathsheba may indicate that she was compelled to come to David. David’s action, as Brueggemann (1990:272) describes it, was a demonstration of “human desire and human power.”
In Israel, the king had the power to control and to obtain people and objects. When the people demanded a king, Samuel warned the people that the king would be a taker: “he will take your sons . . . he will take your daughters” (1 Samuel 8:11, 13). In 1 Samuel 8:10–18, Samuel tells the Israelites that the king would take everything the people had as his own. The king was often able to do as he pleased, seek what he desired, and receive justification after all of his actions. The king had much authority over the people and the nation, and he was able to obtain whatever he desired.
It appears that Samuel’s warning was fulfilled when David took Bathsheba. The king saw Bathsheba bathing, he desired her, and he took what he desired. Even if Bathsheba was unhappy with David’s request to come to the palace, Bathsheba had no power to refuse the king’s sexual demands. Bathsheba, even though she was married, most likely had no say in the matter with David. It was impossible for her to reject the king’s demand. Bathsheba’s situation was similar to what happened to Abishag, the Shunammite. Abishag was taken to the palace to have sex with David.
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam and her grandfather was Ahithophel. Ahithophel was a trusted advisor of David. When Absalom rebelled against David, Ahithophel took the side of Absalom against David. The motive for Ahithophel’s defection from David was because he was angry and unhappy at David for what he had done to Bathsheba and the murder by proxy of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Ahitophel put the blame on David for what had happened to Bathsheba.
Even the Lord put the blame on David. The NIV says, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:27 NIV). But the Lord was more than just displeased with David. The Hebrew text says, “But the thing David had done was evil in the eyes of the LORD.” David did the evil, not Bathsheba.
The Lord was not happy with what David had done. The prophet Nathan told David that the Lord had passed judgment on him. Nathan told David that the sword would now never depart from his house and calamity would come from out of his household. His wives would be taken and given to someone who was close to David. Nathan goes on to tell David that the Lord said, “you did it in secret but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”
The story of David and Bathsheba is a tale of lust, intrigue, self-gratification, rape, adultery, lies, power, deceit, and murder. Was the sexual affair between David and Bathsheba rape? Jennifer says that it was not rape because Bathsheba never protested and did not resist. The text does not clarify the motives and the intentions of the story; they are left to readers to decide.
The narrator tells only what David did: he sent, he took, she came, he lay with her. The writer does not say anything about Bathsheba’s reactions. Was she flattered or frightened? Was she attracted to David’s fame and power or terrorized by them? According to Israelite laws, Bathsheba had no right to consent to having sex with David. She was a married woman and infidelity would bring shame to her, to her family, and put her life in jeopardy since the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). In Israel, a woman’s honor was her good reputation, and this reputation included her chastity. Bathsheba’s honor as a woman was destroyed because of what David did to her.
Unfortunately, we will never know what Bathsheba said or how she felt. Israel’s patriarchal society did not provide an adequate voice for Bathsheba or other females to express their feelings in cases of unreasonable demands. A patriarchal society allowed certain freedoms for men that were not allowed to women. A patriarchal society empowered the king to do as he pleased, which in certain situations could mean the violation of the rights of another person. Bathsheba was a woman who was violated and whose marriage was destroyed by a man’s lust. In a patriarchal society, it was not easy for a woman to disobey the men in their lives. Women were required to obey the men in their families and, in Bathsheba’s case, the king of her nation.
In light of what the text says about David, I believe it is wrong to defend David and blame Bathsheba for the affair. Bathsheba experienced shame and dishonor by what David did to her. She was used and abused and yet, in the mind of some people, she should be blamed for what happened.
Unfortunately, the biblical text does not say anything about Bathsheba’s view on the affair. She is silent throughout the whole ordeal. Her only words were spoken to tell David that she was pregnant. She may have gone to the palace under duress. She may have objected and shown some protest in going to the royal palace. On the other hand, she may have feared for her life and was forced to come before David. We do not know how Bathsheba reacted because the biblical writers chose not to tell his readers.
I believe the facts in the text seem to indicate that it was David’s fault that this sordid affair took place. Readers should sympathize with Bathsheba, not with David.
Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.
Caspi, Michael M. and Sascha B. Cohen. Still Waters Run Deep: Five Women of the Bible Speak. New York: University Press of America, 1999.
Yee, Gale A. “Bathsheba (Person).” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. (New York: Doubleday, 1992, 1:627.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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