The Internet and Twitter have been abuzz once again with the issue of David’s affair with Bathsheba. The issue, once more, is whether David raped Bathsheba. The reason for all this discussion on social media is because a very famous pastor said in his sermon that David did not rape Bathsheba. According to him, David broke his marital vows. He committed adultery with Bathsheba but did not rape her.
When looking at the affair between David and Bathsheba, two things must be said of David. First, David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). God chose him to take the place of Saul as the king of Israel. God made a covenant with David and told him that he would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13).
The second thing that one must remember when discussing the affair between David and Bathsheba is that David was a man. Men have desires and passions and some of them covet their “neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17). And David was no different.
David coveted Uriah’s wife. David saw Bathsheba, he sent his men to get her, and she came. But, was the affair between David and Bathsheba consensual or not? The biblical text is silent on whether Bathsheba did anything to escape or to persuade David to stop his advances toward her.
The attempt 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.
The defenders of David say that David was a man of God, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and as such, David, as a man of God, would not rape a woman since he feared 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 lāqah as “get,” “David sent messengers to get her” (2 Samuel 11:4). However, the Hebrew verb lāqah 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. In his rebuke of David for what he had done to Bathsheba, Nathan told David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? . . . You have taken his wife to be your wife . . . you have despised me. . . Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:9-12).
“What you have done in secret shall be done before Israel.” Amnon, David’s son, took his sister Tamar, David’s daughter, and “raped her” (2 Samuel 13:14 NIV). When Absalom, David’s son, revolted against David, to show the people that he was the new king instead of his father, “Absalom had sex with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (2 Samuel 16:22 NET). Absalom raped David’s wives in public.
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? Some people say 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.
NOTE: For other studies on Bathsheba, read my post Bathsheba, The Wife of Uriah.
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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