Is it a story of 2-way forbidden lust and salacious gratification? Or, does the biblical account of David and Bathsheba expose a favored king, who abused his authority in order to effectively rape his prey? One’s answer not only makes direct implication upon ethics & anthropology (rightly understanding humans) but also on theology (rightly understanding God).
Contemporary Implications about Human Sexual Morality
Everyone (when asked) will state that a woman can & should say no to unwanted sexual advances. But, does a woman always really have an obvious and free choice to say “no,” especially in the face of unwanted advances from a powerful and/or rich man? Amid the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, one observes that some in society have had a good grasp on this matter and have never changed their ideas about what defines sexual assault. Others, it seems, are hearing about proper definitions of harassment/assault for the first time.
Because of varying definitions of sexual harassment and assault, the above dilemma on how to interpret the Bible is, frighteningly enough, debated among Christians; and one’s answer to the guilt or innocence of Bathsheba either confirms or rejects a great deal of western, fundamentalist & conservative Evangelical moral traditionalism. Is a woman ever to be blamed—in any degree—for the lustful actions of a man? Fundamentalist Evangelicals have always taught “the adultery and murder” by David, and that has misshaped the view of the events. While being raised in independent fundamentalism, I never heard anything other than Bathsheba was complicit. Fundamentalists should have been saying all along, “The sexual assault and murder by David.”
From the Text:
A Prophet’s Assessment
Nathan the Prophet made the case clear, when he told the narrative of the lamb. David took it by power and devoured it. David is to blame. No mention is ever made of Bathsheba’s sin, and Nathan’s parable probably would have been different had she had a choice.
Laws and Statutes
It is plainly clear in the Hebrew Law that a man must not take another man’s wife. In fact, the Decalog (10 Commandments) requires one not to covet a neighbor’s wife. Accordingly, one can understand the shock that Christians debate the innocence of Bathsheba in this.
In contemporary analogy: one needs only look toward infractions of the law when determining guilt and innocence. Now, no one is projecting today’s laws and customs onto the ancient case of David and Bathsheba. It should go undisputed that—whether Bathsheba “enjoyed” David at any time or not—Bathsheba was still a victim under the law. Therefore, it is utterly disgusting and repulsive that one should ask a lawfully-defined rape victim if she enjoyed it, in order to determine complicity. The law is what matters in these cases.
The reader may be asking, “Does anyone really ask rape victims if they enjoyed it to determine complicity?” The answer, unfortunately, is yes. It happens quite often in Fundamentalist and Conservative Evangelical Christianity. Because these sort of fanatics believe they are above “the laws of mankind,” they very often cover up, distort or never report crimes. And, they very often shame/blame the victim. For example, see the ABC News account, regarding the wife of pastor Chuck Phelps, who required that very answer from a 15 yr old rape victim in Indianapolis. The point is David broke laws of his day, just as the rapist broke statutory laws of our day. Bathsheba broke none. The 15 year old girl broke none. No doubt, a guard showed up at Bathsheba’s door, commanded her in the name of the king to come to the palace. From there, David had his way with her, against the law.
From the Historical Context:
The historical context of customs in events between David and Bathsheba provide further clues, which one needs for determining if only one or both of them were to blame.
Refusal of a King?
Refusing a king in the ancient world would have meant certain death. Just because the Bible does not mention Bathsheba protesting, struggling or crying out does not mean she had a choice in the matter or that she wanted to participate. David proved he was capable of murder. Besides being king, he was not an easy man to say no to. Bathsheba would not have been able to say no for potential ramifications, possibly to her very life, if not the ostracism of her family. It was effective rape.
In contemporary analogy: neither would Monica Lewinsky or Stormy Daniels have an easy time of saying no to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively. Just as David manipulated circumstances to kill Bathsheba’s husband, many people have “disappeared” around the Clintons; and Trump’s money has served to bury his embarrassing indiscretion. If Lewinsky or Daniels had been 100% complicit, we never would have heard about their complaints. In Lewinsky’s case, one may not assume Lewinsky wanted it, because that would be quite a blind and calloused assumption, since Lewinsky came forward bravely and accused him.
The personal and professional pressure on women in these situations is overwhelming, so that they feel they have no choice; and that is a truly ethical matter that deserves correction of the person of power, every time.
The Ancient Rooftop
People in the ancient world did everything on their rooftops, b/c no Air Con and no indoor clothes drying. Bathsheba had just finished her “time of the month,” so the bath was the ritual purification bath, which was commanded by the law for her to do. Also, Bathsheba’s family were prominent. It is very likely she and her husband had a taller house than most, especially since it was so near the royal palace. It is quite an assumption to say Bathsheba just went outside where all the neighbors could see and decided to get naked. David wasn’t even supposed to be there, since kings were customarily to be with their army during wartime. She had no reason to think David would be watching. Seeing Bathsheba was ritually bathing, a short time after her period, David would have known the “time was right” to gain a child by such a beautiful and prominent woman.
In all objectivity, David literally used his high and powerful vantage point to look down on her, when no one else could. He craved her, and her fetched he out of her own home unexpectedly, then asserted his dominance and killed her husband out of embarrassment.
Contemporary Implications on Theology
While it is impossible to argue God “let David get away with his crimes,” what is one to make of God’s having killed the child of David by Bathsheba? Did God punish Bathsheba and the child, because it was conceived through consensual adultery?
Human Free Will & No Divine Intervention?
First, it is important to note that God did not intervene in the evil actions of David against Bathsheba and Uriah, her husband. But why would a good God allow such evil in the first place?
It is undisputed that humans have the ability to affect one another’s’ lives for good or bad. Since God created humans with the power of free (autonomous) will, it also stands that God cannot violate the free will of those upon whom He bestowed it without eradicating all humanity by definition and necessity. Instead of annihilating humanity, God works to overcome evil by good: by redemptive and restorative justice. He is so powerful that he can both allow for all the choices (good or evil) of mankind and still forward a grand (cosmic) plan to right all wrongs and to more than adequately reward those who have suffered at the ruthlessness of evil hands.
To see how such redemptive and restorative justice works, one need only continue a study of David & Bathsheba. Yes, Bathsheba was a quadruple victim at David’s hands. She suffered loss of her own dignity and family reputation, her husband, and her child… all because of David. Though it may seem little consolation on the surface, both David and God made all of this suffering as right as possible by Solomon’s ascending to the throne. Thus, Bathsheba, for all her suffering, is the direct ancestral matriarch of the Messiah; and in her lifetime, she saw her own legitimate son ascend to the most prominent throne in the ancient world. This is an example of redemptive blessing and restorative Justice.
Preserving the Messianic Legitimacy
All the same, God did not actively aid the recovery of the child, though David prayed for it. Was God punishing Bathsheba and the child for David’s sin? In short, no. The child’s death was not God punishing Bathsheba or the child. Rather, the text (2 Sam 12:14) indicates clearly that the child died, because its death would show the enemies of YHWH that He does not play favorites with King David about His Law and Messianic Promise.
God was punishing David, but that is not all God was doing. Beyond doubt, God declares in the text, that He had to be seen (by other nations) as keeping the Davidic Line pure and yet deal with David’s introducing a huge generational blight of illegitimacy into the Messianic line. David knew the promises that were made to him. And David should have known the threat that breaking the Hebrew Law, in order to get what he wanted (i.e. an heir), would bring on the covenant promise.
The reader must remember this event took place during a time when all of the surrounding nations were learning YHWH of Israel had promised the Messiah to David’s bloodline. God theoretically could have killed David and let the child grow up to assume the throne; but to do so, YHWH would have gone back on previous promises made about David’s Line. So, instead of killing David and letting an illegitimate heir reign on the throne, which would have destroyed the legitimacy of God’s Plan of Divine Redemption for all mankind, God protected the integrity of the line of Messiah by cutting off the child that resulted from David’s assault on Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband. Moreover, we read from David’s response upon the child’s death that the child is in Paradise.
Universal Implications: Redemption
God’s taking the child to paradise was, apparently, the most just, merciful and righteous action YHWH could perform for all involved, including all people of all times. If no legitimate Messiah, then no legitimate redemption of mankind. Again, David may have wanted the legally illegitimate child to be his heir, or the child may have falsely asserted the crown right. Or, even Bathsheba (who certainly knew of the Messianic promise to David) may have falsely asserted the child’s throne right. Only God knows those potentials. But a legitimate line was necessary for the Messiah, so that all evil can be deposed by Jesus and mankind lawfully and fully restored to its original state of agency & union with God.
Individual Implications: Abortion/Murder of Innocents
In contemporary application, can God’s taking David & Bathsheba’s first child equate to abortion or murder of an innocent in any way? For a short answer, No. The child was indeed already born when it contracted a natural but deathly illness, albeit at the passivity of God to allow an incurable, natural pathogen to take its course. By not actively intervening, YHWH was demonstrating, on the one hand, a lack of favoritism, and on the other hand, a moral principle that stands opposed to assisted suicide / euthanasia. Again, the taking of the child was, according to David’s statement of “I shall go to him,” a direct placement of the child in Paradise.
- The sanctity of all life is a clear principle God upholds.
- All innocent children, born and unborn, are directly escorted to Heaven upon death.
- The stakes were heightened in the case with David and the line of the Messiah. While God did not violate any of his Old Testament laws or precepts, the case of the child of David and Bathsheba must be seen as an exception and not the rule on how God deals with these kinds of matters. Moreover, this is now the New Testament era, and Since the Messiah was successfully and legitimately born
Sara Barton spike on this at Harbor, the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.https://t.co/OwKMkST86h
— Candace Killip (@cankill) May 26, 2019
Chuck Swindoll et al promote Bathsheba as a temptress, not a #MeToo #ChurchToo victim: https://www.insight.org/resources/article-library/individual/bathsheba-walking-into-adultery
— Lamb’s Harbinger (@LambsHarbinger) April 22, 2019
This is from the “Bible Knowledge Commentary” which was produced by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary pic.twitter.com/YbTskvk83u
— JustABurnerToReadNews (@B34662327) April 22, 2019