#churchtoo: What Do We Do With King David?

Two weeks ago, Matt Smethurst and Rachael Denhollander ignited what turned into quite the Twitter war over her contention that King David’s conquest of Bathsheba was not a consensual affair but rather a sexual assault.

(For the record, I agree with Denhollander, and that is a position at which I arrived almost 30 years ago.)

But accepting that assessment–that David indeed committed rape–leaves us in a quandary: how does this affect our theological assessment of King David?

This is not a trivial question, as–over the years–commentators, both academic and devotional, have given a large amount of time to David. Beth Moore became a rock star with her Bible study, A Heart Like His. Just go to Google and search for books about King David and you’ll get a voluminous number of results.

First, I want to address the blowback against Denhollander, some of which I incurred in the Twittersphere.

The backlash was severe, coming from a faction of hardline conservative–hard Calvinist–devotees. This crowd, with very few exceptions, was very combative, not collegial at all, and downright insulting. Myself and a Twitter ally–a pathology professor–were called “stupid”, “liar”, “fool”, “heretic”, and told “you don’t know the first thing about Scripture”, all for pointing out the obvious, including the Hebrew and basic grammatical structure of the text.

Personally, I was not so much offended as I was beside myself as to why they were so passionate about digging their heels regarding this matter.

Keep in mind that as an old-school conservative, I am used to hard fights about tough issues: Biblical inerrancy, inclusive language, the Atonement, the Deity of Christ, the veracity of miracle accounts in the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus, the end times, pedo-versus-credo baptism.

In those fights, it gets spirited to say the least. But in this case, the “David did NOT commit rape” crowd was fighting as if this was the last stand against the enemies of Jesus.

Oh, and then they “blocked” me. I’m not so much offended at that–I’ve got thick skin and big shoulders–but mildly entertained at the level of angst that they seem to convey. For people who oppose the “easily-triggered” crowd, they were quite easily-triggered.

My question to them: what do you have invested in this that explains the butthurt? Has Rachael Denhollander hit a nerve?

Kyle Worley provides as an insightful piece, writing in Christianity Today, as to why it’s hard for people to accept that David was a rapist.

My take: most people cannot envision themselves as rapists. We can see ourselves having illicit sex given sufficient motivation and opportunity; we can see ourselves doing great bodily harm to others given sufficient provocation; given the right circumstances, some of us may even be willing to kill another person.

But rape? We run from that one. No one likes the “sex offender” tag. Not even a sex offender.

But that brings us back to King David: what do we do with King David? What do we know of his character? Do we view him as a great man of God? Do we view him as a sexual predator and a murderer? How do the Scriptures assess him in the final analysis? And what are some of the implications of that for us as Christians?

First off, it is important to remember how David came onto the scene. The first king–Saul–started out strong but turned sour in a hurry. The Israelites had picked him, as he looked the part: he was the tallest man in the kingdom and looked like a warrior. Despite some early successes, he fell out of favor with God, as the Judge-Priest-Prophet Samuel chastised him for showing an utter lack of regard for the things of God.

After Saul failed a sufficient number of times–particularly in his disobeying the command of God to kill the Amalekites (including all livestock) and leave everything as an offering–God had Samuel anoint the next King.

As you read the story, God led Samuel to the tribe of Judah, to the house of Jesse. As Samuel met the seven sons of Jesse, God indicated that none of them were His choice for King. Then Jesse told him there was another son: the youngest, who was out taking care of the sheep. (In other words, the lowest of the bunch, as he had the task no one else wanted.)

That son was David, and that is the one God chose, and Samuel–in turn–anointed him as the next King.

The next time we see David, we see the Philistine warrior–Goliath, a 9-foot super-fighter–challenging the Israelites to send out a fighter to take him one-on-one. The Israelites, including Saul–ironically the tallest man in the kingdom–were not up to the challenge. One day, as David was taking food rations to his brothers, he took up the challenge:

What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?

I Samuel 17:26 (NASB)

The response by this brothers was nothing short of an insult, amounting to, “You sure talk tough for a sheep herder who’s not even a fighter.” And David’s words to Saul were poignant:

Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:34-37 (NASB)

Clearly, David is a man of faith in God. For a young man–otherwise untested in battle–he’s confident that he can win. Is it because he knows that he has been anointed as the next King (which happened in the preceding chapter)? Is it because he sees Goliath as less-threatening than a lion or a bear? Is it because he has a level of marksmanship that awaits Goliath, who has no idea what kind of unconventional attack he is about to experience? I believe David knew that God was on his side, and–as of that point–he also was on God’s side.

The depth of David’s faith–and understanding of God’s word–is laid bare in the Psalms. He understood the importance of meditating on God’s word (Ps 1); he had a glimpse of the Godhood of the Messiah (Ps. 2); he trusted God for protection from the wicked (Ps 5); trusted God for mercy (Ps 6); worshiped God fervently and called others to do so (Ps 8, 9), implored God for forgiveness (Ps. 32, 51), extolled the great mercies of God (Ps. 103), spoke greatly about the law of God (Ps. 119); gave glory to the providence of God (Ps. 23).

We also know that David had great respect for God’s order. In spite of being the anointed King, David respected that Saul was King until he died, and David was in no rush to make that happen. He was willing to wait his turn. In fact, he was best-friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. His first wife was Saul’s daughter Michal. Even when Saul tried–on multiple occasions–to kill David, he refused to fight Saul.

Even when he became king upon the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, David was gracious to Saul’s legacy, extending kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. In taking the throne, David would become the standard for Godly kings.

But something happened between his anointing in 1 Samuel 16, and his assault with Bathsheba in II Samuel 17.

During the time in between, David killed a large number of people in battle. When he was first anointed, he was a lowly shephered who had fought off a bear and a lion. But from there, he killed tens of thousands of Philistines. This is one reason why God would not let King David build the Temple.

This high death toll is a big deal, even if it was in the course of “just war”. Any time you kill someone, even if the killing is justified, there is a price to pay. This is because justifiable homicide is still homicide. And the more you kill, the more it impacts your soul.

And that large death toll was a likely factor in making David cavalier–even Machiavellian–with the lives of others when it became expedient.

But there was another factor that seemed to play against David: his own success. From his victory over Goliath to his years on the run from Saul to his ascent to the throne, David was successful in his endeavors. Even as Saul sought to kill him, he still managed to score great victories against the Philistines, and even gained a popular following. As a King, he enjoyed great success against longtime enemies of Israel.

That also likely stoked a pride in David that lurked under the surface. That pride may have motivated him to stay in Jerusalem during that fateful Spring. That would be the kind of pride that says, “I’ve been successful; I have a competent army; they don’t need me; I can defeat my enemies without even being on the battlefield.”

Why do I point these things out? David’s “great sin” was not a spontaneous act, but rather a series of actions that required (a) a heart inclined to evil, (b) premeditation, (c) the use of other people to carry out the evil, and (d) purposeful action. In the process, David showed a callous disregard for the Law of God, a sense of entitlement to what was not even his, a callous disregard for the well-being of others, and a callous disregard for the lives of others.

Had David gone to battle like he should have, we would not be having this discussion. When he saw Bathsheba, he began lusting immediately. Had he stopped there, we would not be having this discussion. Had he harkened to the warnings of his men–that Bathsheba was married and therefore off-limits–we would not be having this discussion.

But let the record show that a man after God’s own heart–who cherished God’s word, who had a deep faith and understanding of the character of God–trampled over all that is holy and pure and did the unthinkable: he took another man’s wife, got her pregnant, whacked her husband to cover it up–oh, and she mourned over her husband’s death–and then tried to make himself look like a great hero by taking her in her pregnant widowhood.

And while some will point out that God forgave King David, we cannot ignore the terrible consequences of his actions:

  • His first child with Bathsheba would die;
  • there was perpetual turmoil in his house;
    • Amnon raped his sister Tamar;
    • Absalom killed Amnon;
    • David exiled Absalom;
    • Absalom mounted a coup against David;
    • David was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life;
    • The most powerful King in the region couldn’t even protect his wives from being publicly raped by his son;
    • Absalom would be killed in battle;
    • Adonijah tried to make himself the King as David neared death;
    • Even in Matthew 1, God calls attention to David’s sin, referring to Solomon “by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah”, even as he refers to Jesus as “the son of David”;
  • his taking of the census resulted in mass death among his own people;
  • David–while not dying in the disgrace that Saul did–left this earth with a whimper;
  • successive kings would lead Israel to idolatry, then civil war, beginning a descent to captivity.

Was David a man after God’s own heart or was he a rapist and a murderer who played fast and loose with other people’s lives and dignity? Yes: he was all of those things.

Theologically, David was the closest thing to a Messiah in the Old Testament. And yet he was short of the glory by at least half a universe. He committed not just one, but rather two, death penalty offenses, one of which was a sexual assault on a married woman.

And yet, even as his actions reflect a profound spiritual degradation, I would note that David still was notable in his character.

When Nathan confronted him and gave him a prophet-to-king smackdown of all time, David’s response was one of uncommon humility. Contrast the way he received Nathan’s rebuke–admitting his sin–with the way other kings (Joash, Asa) responded to prophetic rebuke.

Contrast David’s response to the way many preachers and evangelists–caught in scandal–have responded. David does not respond with any expectation that he should live; in fact, he states that the offender “deserves to die” (II Samuel 12:5) and does not retract that when Nathan responded, “Thou art the man!” He owns his failure. When his son dies, he does not whine about the consequences, nor does he–at any subsequent point in his life–complain about his consequences.

In fact, for the remainder of David’s rule, he was humble in his dealings with others. When we read the Psalms, we see his anguish over his sin (Ps 51: “my sin is ever before me”) even as he rejoices in God’s forgiveness (Ps. 103).

The implications are staggering, as, without a doubt, many ministers today have committed similar abuses of power–taking sexual license with people in their care. The Andy Savage/High Point fiasco of 2018 brought this reality to light, as a 22-year-old Savage–a youth minister at the time–took 17-year-old Jules Woodson to a dark place and solicited a Clinton.

Many of Savage’s defenders called attention to King David and implored the Church for forgiveness, as Savage had “repented”.

The problem is, that wasn’t the case. When confronted with his past, Savage attempted to minimize what he did, spinning it as a “sexual incident” and even an “organic moment”. Even after his resignation–in which he finally admitted that what he did was “abuse”–he later tried to downplay the #churchtoo movement.

Over the years, the scandals have been voluminous. And almost every time the pastors are exposed, the immediate talk is of restoration: when will they return to ministry. Their fans will cite King David.

But in so doing, we miss the point. In so doing, we overlook the horrid trail of damage, the victims left in the wake. And before you overlook these offenses, chalking them up to “youthful indiscretions”, talk to the victims and ask about what they went through.

Ask Jules Woodson–she’s easy to find on Twitter and is outspoken about her experience. Ask Anne Marie Miller. Ask Brooks Hansen and Kenny Stubblefield; ask Kim Rung; ask Kelly Haines. And if you want to know what drives the predatory abusers, I can direct you to experts such as trauma therapist Mike Phillips and University of Michigan pathologist Julia Dahl, who will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about narcissists and their grooming and damage control techniques.

Sadly, by glossing over these abuses–chalking them up as “oopsies” or “screwups” or “mistakes” or “misconduct”–we overlook the price born by the victims, and, worse, the ugliness of sin.

David, by accepting Nathan’s rebuke, accepted that he was entitled to nothing good, that he deserved to die, that he did not deserve to remain on the throne let alone remain in the covenant that God had established with him. When was the last time you heard a minister–caught in his sin–admit that much?

We could use a lot more humility among our clergy and Church leadership, and less entitlement. And the better we understand how an otherwise Godly King abused his power and took a married woman for his own sexual pleasure–and comitted murder to cover it up, and then tried to spin himself as a hero–the better we’ll be able to understand that need for humility.

May we not become like David before we ‘get it’.

Kansas channels Stone Cold Steve Austin

If you don’t get the title… when he was performing in WWE, Austin regularly popped fingers at authority figures, opponents, the crowd, or whoever his antagonist at the time was. Often double-barreled.

The Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team is indisputably one of college basketball’s flagship programs. And it’s one of the programs most tied to the recent NCAA recruiting corruption scandal. Last month, the Jayhawks received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, stemming from the school’s relationship with Adidas, the apparel company most tied (so far) to the scandal.

According to this post from a popular University of Kentucky sports blog:

There are two ways to respond to rule-breaking allegations. You can decide to lay low, comply and embrace a straight-edge lifestyle to prevent any further damage, or you could deny any rule-breaking whatsoever and become defiant. Kansas chose the latter in the most over-the-top way imaginable.

For starters, Kansas posted a video promoting Snoop Dogg’s appearance at Late Night in the Phog, the team’s first preseason practice. The video featured longtime Jayhawks head coach Bill Self wearing a T-shirt with Adidas’ logo and a chain with a dollar sign. Mind you, this was four days after receiving formal charges from the NCAA.

(Kansas is one of many schools that makes said practice into a major evening event; Kentucky’s version is known as Big Blue Madness. “The Phog” is a nickname for the Jayhawks’ arena, Allen Fieldhouse; it’s named after one of their past great coaches, Forrest “Phog” Allen.)

Then came the event… with Kansas going full Stone Cold, sticking two middle fingers right in the NCAA’s face. Complete with the following:

  • Pole dancers during Snoop’s performance.
  • Kansas’ mascot “smoking” a huge fake blunt during said performance.
  • Snoop firing a money gun into a section where Kansas recruits were seated. Granted, the money was obviously fake, with Snoop’s face on it, but still…

The aforementioned post from the UK sports blog even threw in a dig at the Louisville basketball sex scandal, saying “Kansas brought Minardi Hall to Phog Allen.”

(Minardi Hall is Louisville’s men’s basketball dorm, alleged site of several of the parties that triggered that scandal.)

Kansas couldn’t backtrack from it fast enough. Self said he was caught off-guard by Snoop’s performance; he had gone back to the locker room early on and didn’t see most of it. Kansas’ athletic director Jeff Long—no stranger to athletic scandal, since at an earlier post as AD at Arkansas he had to deal with the fallout from the revelation that the head football coach was (1) having an extramarital affair and (2) had hired his mistress for the team’s office staff—issued an apology. Actually, two apologies, since his first version made a very awkward reference to the pole dancers that caused no end of snickering on the Internet.

I could say more about this, but I think it speaks for itself.

David and Bathsheba: #metoo Before The Hashtag

In the Twitter world, Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/MattSmethurst/status/1179912370103160832

To which Rachael Denhollander responded:

In point of fact, Denhollander has a good point. Sadly, her view is not shared across the board among people who ought to know better. Over the years, I have, on many occasions, heard the David-Bathsheba “affair” portrayed as a case where Bathsheba bathed in plain sight in order to be seen by King David. The commentaries include everything but a winking eye, and poor David—he just couldn’t control his lusts!

I kid you not. Even in a Bible Study Fellowship presentation 23 years ago, a guest presenter provided exactly that take. And this was a fairly learned group of men.

Allow me to burst that bubble….and this, ladies and gentlemen, is not rocket science. (I’m going to use ESV for the translation, although–to be honest–it doesn’t matter. Pick any translation you wish: on this matter, it’s clear as daylight.)


Picking up 2 Samuel 11, starting at verse 1:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

The chapter begins with a layout of the background:

  • It was Spring.
  • It was a time during which kings typically went to battle. And we know that David is himself a warrior who has established himself as an Israelite king to be feared and respected among her neighbors.
  • The Israelites were enjoying military success.
  • But David–a warrior-king–did not go with his troops.

In other words, David was not doing his job.

Picking up verse 2:

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.

While the ESV translation says “late one afternoon”, the Hebrew literally translates “in an evening”. (NASB indicates “when evening came”, KJV says, “in an eveningtide”, and NIV indicates, “in an evening”. For once, the NIV is actually closer to the literal Hebrew rendering.)

So let the record show, when David saw Bathsheba bathing, it was evening. This is an important detail.

Picking up verse 3:

And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

Keep in mind that, at this time, David is married. In fact, he has at least two wives of whom we know by name: Michal (Saul’s daughter) and Abigail. When he saw Bathsheba, the proper response would have been to look away and go back to his official business, meditating on God’s Law, of which he wrote so eloquently in the Psalms.

But instead, he decided to entertain his lusts. In so doing, he asked his men about her. And their response was to the general effect of, “Uhmmm….your Majesty…she’s married, and you know both her husband and her father.” (Based on what transpired, he knew that Uriah was one of his most valiant soldiers.)

Had he dropped the matter there, all would have been well. Except he didn’t stop with that veiled admonition. We learn this in verse 4:

So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.

Now I’ve heard some commentarors use this passage to show that the David-Bathsheba “affair” was a consensual one, and that she was at least partially at fault. What gets lost in that take is that the passage does not say that.

Let’s just say that, if you’re a woman whom a king wants, and that king sends his men for you, you have two acceptable responses: “Yes, I will happily serve His Majesty” and, “which clothes does His Majesty prefer that his women wear?” Bathsheba had no choice; due to the power differential, “consent”–as we understand it–was simply not possible.

Moreoever, verse 4 gives us an additional, and important detail as to what Bathsheba was doing in the first place:

  • “Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.”

In Old Testament Israel, women were deemed unclean during that wonderful time of the month that Aunt Flo dropped in for a week. At the end of that week, women ceremonially washed themselves and were then declared clean. That is what Bathsheba was doing!

When women are sexually assaulted, a common response–albeit an unfair one–is to question the degree of victimhood of the woman:

  • What was she wearing?
  • Was she a prostitute?
  • Was she acting seductively?
  • Did she really want it and then just claim rape now that “buyer’s remorse” has set in?

2 Samuel 11:1-4 is not implying that those responses are legitimate in such cases; at the same time, those 4 verses are telling us that such a response–even if you think it is valid–isn’t in play here.

  • It was evening;
  • Bathsheba was bathing as part of her monthly purification.

In other words, Bathsheba was doing everything “by the book”. She was being discreet. In spite of her proximity to very powerful people, she is acting so as to not be easily-seen. She is the one minding her own business.

Contrast that with the way the passage presents David.

  • David wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
    • He should have been on the battlefield with his troops, but he remained in Jerusalem instead;
    • Even in Jerusalem, it was evening and he should have been attending to his wives or other official business;
    • When he saw Bathsheba, rather than turn away from his lust, he chose to entertain those lusts by asking about her;
    • In spite of a veiled warning, David sent his men and took Bathsheba, at which point “he lay with her.”

In point of fact, the Scriptures put 100% of the blame on King David and none of it on Bathsheba.

This was not an “affair”; affairs are consensual acts of infidelity. (This is why the Law commanded death for both offenders in such cases.)

This was not consensual; in fact, it was a #metoo assault long before the hashtag arrived.