Victim or Vixen (Part 2): Who started it?

When it comes to David and Bathsheba, the majority of Biblical commentaries fall into one of two camps. Most despise the evil woman, a temptress who considered David’s godly character a challenge for her feminine talents. Others weep heavily for this poor young girl who became the victim of a sinful king’s unabated libido. Today we’re going to weigh the case of instigation. Was “the act” volitional on Bathsheba’s part? Did she invite the king’s interest? Or was this a royally-sanctioned rape? Did she have any choice in the matter? Who started it? And what difference does it make to us?

I’m going to make a couple stretches here, speculation you might expect from a legal prosecutor. I admit: most of these unfair assumptions are made toward Bathsheba. It’s not that I dislike her; I actually like her very much. It’s just that we don’t really know her. The poor woman is shrouded in missing details, while we know nearly everything about David. Bear with me while I state the case. It will all be brought into balance throughout our study together.

outdoor-tub-thumb2671885The Case Against Bathsheba:

She bathed on her roof. Naked. In the afternoon. Within plain sight of the king’s palace. If he could see her, she could probably see him. It’s not like they had one-way mirrors in Jerusalem back then; there were no tinted windows. Bathsheba might have known David was watching her bathe, yet she made no effort to dissuade his admiration. (The historian Josephus even notes it was a “cold” bath. I’m guessing that means her headlights were on.) Not exactly the behavior of a modest, devoted wife.

Did she protest at all? She didn’t refuse his guards when they came to get her from Uriah’s home. She didn’t protest when the king made his intentions clear. She didn’t tell anyone after she went home the next morning. Even when she realized she was pregnant, she didn’t tell her husband, her mother, her servants (though I’m sure they knew). No. She sent a private, sealed note to David and waited for him to decide what to do. If this were an act against her, wouldn’t she have told someone? She would have to in order to protect her reputation, her husband’s reputation, even her very life. Unfaithful wives were stoned. If not violated (and appropriately vocal about being victimized), then they were guilty. Granted: women did not have rights. They were considered property. But Bathsheba must have had someone who would stand up for her. Uriah was at war, but a father, a brother, a male cousin … someone could have listened! If she had talked.

You may be thinking, “But her attacker was the king! Would it have done any good to make the act known? What would have come from protesting?” In most monarchies the king has absolute authority. This, however, was not the case in ancient Israel. The king ruled in cooperation with the priests. Israel was a nation set apart for God. Their absolute authority was Yahweh, not the king. The priests served as liaisons between God and the people; the king served as earthly protector and judge. Yes, David had great authority, but he was under the law of God the same as any other man in Israel. The priests gave him his position and they could take it away. A king who raped the wives of his army men could easily be overturned.

The Bible does not shy away from gritty topics like rape. Dinah was raped and avenged in gruesome detail. Lot’s daughters were gang raped with their father’s permission. We read stories of rape in the same book that tells us of David and Bathsheba. David’s daughter is raped by her half-brother. Another brother rapes a number of David’s concubines on the roof of the palace while David is in hiding. Scripture is not timid with these details, yet no mention of force is made here in reference to Bathsheba. Why not?

The Bible does mention that David was handsome. He was built. He was a singer/songwriter. What girl has never dreamed of being on the arm of a hunky rock star? And he was king! The most powerful man in all Israel. Bathsheba’s husband was away. She had no children. She was probably lonely. People do crazy things when they’re lonely. Especially when faced with a tasty temptation.

The Case Against David:

The first verse of this story (found in 2 Samuel 11) tells us David was not where he was supposed to be. “… at the time when kings go out to battle … David stayed at Jerusalem.” Not only did he stay home when he was supposed to be defending his kingdom, he took a nap. In the afternoon. So, David’s armies — including Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah — were off fighting for him while he stayed home to nap in his palace and sleep with their women. Oh, wait. We’re not there yet.

So, David naps all day then wakes in late afternoon to stroll his roof. There he sees a bathing beauty. He doesn’t turn away. He doesn’t honor her privacy. In fact, he invites his servants to look at her too so that they can tell him who she is. Sure, she was naked on her roof, probably at dusk, but all the men were fighting (save those who were too old or working in the palace). She probably believed she was alone. Some sources claim her actions align with the custom of the times. Whatever her role, David saw her and wanted her.

And who was she? The daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. We don’t know much about Eliam, although his name suggests he came from a God-fearing family. Uriah, however, we know was among David’s thirty Mighty Men, his most loyal soldiers (1 Chronicles 11). David knew who he was. What’s more: several sources agree Bathsheba was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel. Ahithophel was one of David’s advisers, one who after this event turned against David and aligned with Absalom, David’s son who sought to overthrow the throne. Perhaps he betrayed David because David first betrayed his family by taking Bathsheba.

What did David do once he found out who she was? He had her brought to him. He didn’t wait either. Did he struggle with his conscience? It doesn’t seem so. One of his thirty most trusted men was at war for him, yet he took that man’s wife the same night. He betrayed his friend in one of the most despicable ways! And he did it without delay.

Later, after telling how David had Uriah murdered and brought Bathsheba into the palace as his wife, the Bible says “… the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD.” It doesn’t place blame on Bathsheba, just David. Furthermore, Nathan didn’t confront Bathsheba; he confronted David. Even his parable makes Bathsheba seem a victim and David like an arrogant, heartless thief.

They’re both guilty. Maybe one is more at fault than the other, but the Bible really doesn’t make it clear. No matter who started it, no matter who is more responsible, they both had choices. They both repeatedly made choices to act against God’s will.

In the same way we have choices. The Bible makes it clear that we can choose to obey or we can choose to act in sin. God promises to always provide a way out, a way to avoid temptation. Joseph is a perfect example. Like David, he faced a beautiful woman, but instead of indulging the flesh, Joseph chose to flee. He literally ran away, tearing his cloak in the process. He ended up rejected and jailed, but he remained righteous in the sight of God. Perhaps if David had not sought her company or if Bathsheba had rejected David’s invitation … a thousand ifs and history would read differently.

What history are we writing for ourselves? Are we making choices that honor God? Or are we choosing to serve ourselves instead?

Perhaps this infamous couple believed it was just one night, that nothing would come of it. What reckless decisions have we made? We may think it is an isolated choice, that it won’t affect our futures or anyone around us. Maybe we’re right. And maybe we’ll be paying for these choices for years to come. If consequences seem intangible, God still knows. What godly choices can we make today?

“… serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” — 1 Chronicles 28:9 (NIV)

This is Part 2 of a series. If you missed yesterday’s introduction, click over to this post. Come back tomorrow for Part 3 of the series: Who Stopped It?

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